A Train Derailed: Purdue Football

Drew Brees Rose Bowl Bound in 2000 (AP Photo/David Umberger)

Just ten short years ago, Purdue football was in the midst of its golden age. While at that point Drew Brees had already come and gone and many bowl games had already been played in, Joe Tiller was still at the helm of the Boilermakers program. Tiller is known as the man who brought the ‘basketball on grass’ style of offense to the Big Ten. He is also the man who brought something else to Purdue that its fan base had not seen in quite some time, a winning culture. A school that had only been to five bowls in its entire history went to ten bowls in twelve years. Thanks to all of this success, that winning culture was established in West Lafayette.

From 2009-2012, under the leadership of Danny Hope, Purdue would post a 22-27 record, appearing in two bowls and winning one. While there were signs of progress with Hope, the expectations of the Purdue faithful were far loftier than 22-27 football. For that reason, Hope was let go before Purdue’s game against Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2012.  From there, Purdue turned to Darrell Hazell.

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Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Hazell, who had just turned around a historically bad Kent State program to the point where they were on brink of a BCS bowl, seemed to be the guy to get Purdue back on track. That would not turn out to be the case. During his tenure Hazell posted a 9-36 record as head coach, one of the worst records ever for a coach at Purdue. With the recent hiring of new Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, change was already in motion for Purdue. That change continued when Bobinski decided to fire Hazell after three and a half years as head coach.

If being a great person and all-around likable guy was how head coaches are measured, Darrell Hazell would still be the head coach at Purdue and one of the best coaches in the nation. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. According to sophomore running Markell Jones, Hazell was extremely well regarded by everyone, but business is business.

I honestly and everyone in our locker room owe everything that we have to Coach Hazell just because of the opportunity he gave us to be here. So we’re saddened that business had to be taken care of but as far as the person that he is, no one questioned his character or anything like that. He’s a great guy and I and everyone on the team sent him a text the day after he was fired just to let him know how much we appreciate him because he really is a stand up guy.”

Photo credit: Ben Fahrbach

Photo credit: Ben Fahrbach

With the end of the season drawing near and the team not in bowl contention, the winning culture that Joe Tiller built will officially be no more. When Purdue opens the season next year, they will have zero players on their roster who have played on a team with a winning record, let alone even been to a bowl game. With that being the case, the attention has turned to Athletic Director Mike Bobinski to bring in a coach that will bring Purdue back to relevancy. Jones believes that Bobinski is the right man for the job.

Whoever they bring in I’m sure is going to be a great fit because they’ve had some time to think about it. I trust in Mike Bobinski fully and whatever his search party has going on. So I really won’t speak on that much. I’ll just say that I look forward to whoever they bring in regardless and we’re going to rally around that person and try to take care of some of the issues we’ve had here recently and try to get back on track as a winning program and a historic program as Purdue University is.”

Backed by an administration that is prepared to invest whatever it takes to bring a winning culture back to Purdue football, Bobinski has the tools he necessary to make Purdue one of the more attractive landing spots in college football. For that reason, some pretty interesting rumors have started to surface on who will be the next head coach.

So who will be the next leading man at Purdue University? Here are some names that have been discussed.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Les Miles (Career record: 141-55): Recently fired from LSU, Miles is a guy that would bring immediate national attention to the Purdue program. With a national championship to his name, he is viewed as one of the best coaching candidates on the market. With the re-established commitment to success at Purdue coupled with his Big Ten roots, Miles has been rumored to be extremely interested in the position.

While there are more successful programs with job openings, it’s hard to think they look to a 63 year old coach. These programs are looking for their guy for the next 10-15 years, not a guy who is on most likely on his last coaching stop.

In recent days, there have been rumors that Miles has been on campus and some that have even said a deal is in place and will be announced once the season ends. While none of these rumors have been found to be credible, when there is smoke, there is usually fire. If this were to be the hire for Purdue, it would be an absolute home run.

 PJ Fleck (Career record: 28-21): The unorthodox head man for nationally-ranked Western Michigan is one of the most intriguing prospects on the market. Fleck has built a winning program from the ground up, which is exactly what Purdue needs. However, After seeing what happened to the last MAC head coach who came to Purdue, its possible Fleck looks elsewhere for an opportunity, or even stays at WMU and waits for the right position in the future. At only 35 years old, he has all the time in the world to wait. With that being said, it’s no secret that Fleck likes a challenge. He certainly has that at Purdue if he wants it.

 Skip Holtz (Career record: 118-91): The current head coach for Louisiana Tech and son of Lou Holtz has been rumored to be connected to the Purdue position. After coaching and having success at non-power five schools, Holtz may be ready to bring his spread offensive style to the Big Ten.

Sep 10, 2016; Evanston, IL, USA; Illinois State Redbirds head coach Brock Spack reacts after his team made a play against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half at Ryan Field. The Illinois State Redbirds won 9-7. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois State Redbirds head coach Brock Spack. Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Brock Spack (Career record: 62-34): The head coach for the Illinois State football program knows Purdue better than any other candidate on this list. The former defensive coordinator for Joe Tiller has been part of a staff that had success at Purdue and has had success at the FCS level, taking ISU to the national championship game for the first time in program history. He has reportedly interviewed for the position at Purdue, but it’s hard to see Bobinski going this route. Where Purdue is right now, they need to make a splash to reinvigorate the fan base and get butts back in the seats. Hiring an FCS coach simply doesn’t do that.

 Troy Calhoun (Career record: 75-53): The head coach for Air Force is rumored to be on the Purdue short-list for potential head coaches. In his 10 seasons at Air Force, Calhoun has taken his team to 9 bowls while running the triple option. Having sustained success at a service academy is never easy, so it would be safe to say Calhoun is worth a look.

 Kevin Sumlin (Career record: 79-37): The current head coach for Texas A&M has been rumored to be on and off the hot seat for a while. Should A&M choose to part ways with him, Sumlin could look to return to his alma mater. Sumlin’s teams perennially have one of the top offenses in the nation, something Purdue has been trying to find since the departure of Tiller. As he would instantly be one of the top names on the market, Purdue would have to open the checkbook to lure him back to West Lafayette. Seeing as the administration has said they are prepared to invest in the program, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Greg Olson (Career record: 0-0): The former offensive assistant at Purdue was recently fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars as their offensive coordinator. Olson was Drew Brees’s quarterback coach at Purdue in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and Brees has suggested Olson should be considered for the position. When your most famous football alumni and biggest donor gives you a suggestion, you at least look into it. Olson has interviewed with Purdue, but it’s hard to see that being more than a courtesy interview. He has no head coaching experience and a complete rebuild should not be put in the hands of a first time head coach.

With the season ending on Saturday at 12 PM EST against Indiana, Bobinski has made it clear that he would like to have a new head coach in house relatively quickly following the season. While they need to move quickly to make sure they don’t miss out on any candidates, Purdue needs to make sure that they take the time necessary to lock in the right candidate. Regardless of who is chosen, the new head coach is going to have his work cut out for him to bring the Purdue football program back to where it was just 10 years ago.

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